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/ Moskau / Berlin / 2014 /
“Do you like McDonald’s?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Do you want to go there now?”
“Absolutely not. Why do you think that’s a good idea?”
This was a conversation I had a few years ago with Philip. I think he offered some kind of half thought out explanation about the convenience of the drive-thru, an explanation that didn’t mean anything to him or me, but which was practical and easy to say and which was a sort of tool to dampen any further prying interest I might have in the topic or his interests. I could tell he was being avoidant and nothing would stand in the way of his fetishistic drive so I remained incredulous of his reasoning even as I watched him order his food, pick it up, check inside the bag as though it fucking mattered whether or not his order was correct, and drive away to eat his effortless meal in isolation. I am the easiest person in the world, but, compared to watching Philip at the McDonald’s, if I had witnessed him purchase heroin, I would have only been half as bothered. There was a certain irony he wasn’t unaware of in what he was doing, but that was only a cover being in his mid-20’s afforded him and since I was just as young as he was I found it a flimsy one. I could see that basically Philip was just very much enjoying himself in the McDonald’s drive-thru, and that he was obviously a pervert and fetishist and lacked good taste and didn’t give a shit about the environment or the economy and fuck him. Harsh I know, but we live in a polarizing time so what can I say? In any event, go fuck yourself.
After a few years of just total bafflement at the sudden McDonald’s fascination, and not really accepting my first diagnosis that he was a pervert to fully describe the event, and after all I really love Philip and didn’t want to hate him for something as silly as indulging in McDonald’s every now and again, I put more thought into the attraction. I began to ponder conclusions and took my time arriving at them and after a while of ordering my thoughts, I began to lend them to constructing a narrative. While I’m well aware that psycho-analysis as a form of treatment for disorders has more or less fallen out of fashion and conversely most folks these days probably don’t have the time, patience or sense of self-importance to have long, semi-irrational talks about their dreams and fears in any substantial way, I am not one of them. I like to talk, and I like to plot points out on graphs, and that is what I did with Philip and his miserable McDonald’s obsession. My conclusions are probably quite simplistic compared to those developed during an actual psychoanalysis session, but I am no professional. Actually, now that I think about it, and if I’m being honest, I feel there is probably much more behind Philip’s McDonald’s fascination than I would ever care to articulate, and I’m sure much of it is probably not my business anyway, and the conclusions I drew about Philip, in the final estimation, are basically a generous way of explaining a cataloging project I concocted while thinking about the nature of his personality and his obsessions.
In the eyes of Philip, who couldn’t care less what anyone thought of his good or bad taste or whether I considered him a sophisticated consumer, McDonald’s was a project for him—what did McDonald’s feel like, what did it look like, what did it taste like, what was the attraction for him and for others?
In his eyes, McDonald’s was a colorful, pungent place with pretty girls and a fun, easy way to order MSG laden foods for not very much money. It was not the awful progenitor of mass produced lard-food and lard-culture that stands as a symbol for so much that is wrong with corporate America and America generally. He would go there to indulge regardless of what it meant based on how it felt. I think he had forgotten, intentionally forgotten for the sake of following his own instincts, what McDonald’s meant. He was seeing the place as though for the first time. The mechanism at work here was one of discovery by way of severing ties with an adolescence characterized by vague political and social concerns that were obviously outdated in terms of their place in Philip’s personal life. “Why do I hate McDonald’s?” is a question he may have asked himself. In order to answer that question with any honesty–and with new eyes–he had to do it as a new person who subscribed to a more courageous, less orthodox, less structured belief system. As a white American male in his mid-twenties, with serious artistic ambition, an ambition throughout the ages that often leads to a personal confrontation of some kind with the astringent meta-beliefs of a younger, bourgeois white American male self, Philip was emphatically embarking on a road towards artistic enlightenment and maturity. He was like a DH Lawrence protagonist come out of the North to make a name for himself in London–except American and more interested in eating at a McDonald’s than sexual symbolism. The examination of any artist who suddenly has a craving for McDonald’s inevitably leads to paradox after paradox … In a totally paradoxical way, this pursuit of freedom by Philip, a freedom from his personal past and anachronistic thought patterns, led him to McDonald’s—a symbol of everything that is fucking not free about the USA and exemplary of adolescence immaturity. Which is funny … But, certainly, a paradox like that is the point. Philip’s symbolist phase was over. He was moving into his more mature, more engaged and yet simultaneously more apolitical phase.
In any event, I admire Philip’s attitude, however misguided it is. Simply put, I feel there is something to be gained by opting to view familiar things and things that we have mentally roped off and verboten gemacht with new and non-discriminating eyes. In the summer of 2013, I drove myself and all of my possessions to Seattle from New Orleans, the first metro I’d lived in since sinking 4 years of my life into an English Literature degree. These are two American cities with little in common and yet what they do have in common are American things—American people, faucets, doorknobs, light sockets, and interstate systems bordered by fast food franchises and chain hotels. These things don’t interest me or excite me in any way. I am not much of a fetishist, and I am not interested in boring, stupid shit. I certainly don’t see McDonald’s as anything more than a grease stain on the cotton briefs of a nation of shitheads. And yet, and yet, and yet …
I have a plan, for the sake of experience and for the appeasement of an unrefined cultural prurience in me, to write restaurant and hotel reviews of the places where I eat and sleep. These will inevitably be typical American places, places that we are all familiar with, by sight, smell, and feeling, and which we take for granted and dislike and throw millions and millions of dollars at all the while complaining that America is such a superficial place with crap food and crap aesthetics. Well, I’m done complaining.
Hopefully, the reviews I compile, featuring my own descriptions and insights, can help re-imagine these places and see them without context of any kind—the way Philip under duress of his own instincts saw McDonald’s.
Dairy Queen Exit 540 off of I-20 between Shreveport and Dallas
At this point on my trip, my A/C compressor had blown and my engine was whining. This was the first leg of my trip, and I’m not surprised. It felt appropriate. It even felt fateful. So I took the sudden loss of A/C as a sign. It was time to pull over and grab a bite to eat. Ostensibly in the middle of nowhere, or at the very least caught between two somewheres, I would take the first thing that came my way. That would be the DQ. That is how the DQ works, I think. A large, ubiquitous fast food franchise that seems to be everywhere you need it to be, its presence unless you’re looking for it, is too easy to ignore. By the time I park, I’m sweating too much, and all I really want is to get out of the car and find some A/C. Again, it is for times like this the DQ exists. There is a tradition of reliability and familiarity and community I sense just walking through its Texan doors.
The A/C is unsurprisingly and thankfully on full blast. The floor is red tile with black grout. Booths of primary colors blue, yellow and red line the windowed wall facing the parking lot. I order from a 16 year old girl with braces who is inherently a more mature person than I will ever be, take my number and sit at a blue booth. The DQ serves cookout food. It is a permanent 4th of July cookout. The utensils I am given are a white plastic fork and knife, and my chili dog is presented to me on a plastic tray in a red and white checkered box. I ordered what’s called the XL chili dog. The chili dog only comes in XL. The XL is a long thin, boiled wiener covered in chili, topped with shredded cheddar, diced purple onions and mustard. All of this gives me heartburn, a mild headache and next to zero energy. It’s very, very cheap. It cost about $6.00 which includes fries and a supersized drink. My disappointment reminds to consider where I am which reminds that I have already failed my experiment and that Philip is a truly unique and deranged person.
I’m aware that the folks responsible for how the DQ is marketed and the way its franchises feel are all at once preserving old aesthetics while furthering a brand built on representing those old fashioned American aesthetics and which is really just ripping them off and as the market changes so will their marketing strategy. And yet, it feels to me that if they didn’t seek to preserve that brand, who else would, and if no one did, wouldn’t we all wonder where it went? And yet, it was clear that this DQ was frequented by locals who were familiar and more often than not friendly with each other and so it carried an air of the local flavor and though it is a franchise it is not perceived that way by the people who work there or who frequent it. Even so, despite what I have just fucking said, this place was obviously a fucking chain restaurant, and, to be fair, the irony of being in a DQ in the 2010’s, an era of smartphones and for the first time in the history of mankind instant world wide access to news and information, wasn’t too far from anybody’s mind when I’m over here snapping pictures of my chili dog and a retiree in the next booth is on an Macintosh reading emails.
Best Western Clarendon, TX on US-81 in the Texas panhandle
Massive crickets slam into my car as I pull into the bright roundabout to inquire about vacancies. The countryside around the motel is frighteningly bleak and every so often lightning strikes the ground. The Clarendon Best Western is a well-lit, 2 story building of about 50 rooms. The single room I take is fucking huge. It has two beds, which is pointless, and while I feel the front desk attendant is being spiteful by giving a single guy a double room and thereby depriving other latecomers with larger parties of more appropriate accommodations, I am pleased by her shittiness. Apparently, there was a workout room. I didn’t bother taking a look. It was closed when I got in around 9 PM, and I have no intention of working out the morning of a day I plan to drive for at least 10 hours. Outside of the desk attendant’s bitter feelings towards guests who don’t yet exist, there is nothing particularly interesting or evocative in this place. I try to feel the place with a quick tour of the lobby and the empty dining hall, but there is nothing to feel. It is air-conditioned and beige which isn’t a criticism. It is accessible. Irony isn’t present in the decor, and while the desk attendant’s behavior is not without a very direct ironic characteristic, the place is primarily modest and makes only a minimal effort. This isn’t Fawlty fucking Towers, for God’s sake. There is nothing in Clarendon, TX save for a busy highway. Consequently, this Best Western is a place that must be understood in terms of the human traffic leaving Texas on the way to the coast or the mountains. Without that context, it is pointless and would soon be out of business anyway. The motel is a totally reflexive building built on a totally reflexive idea of lucrative accommodation and location. In other words, the soullessness of this place isn’t cruel. It is a modest soullessness that I am perhaps confusing with meekness. Bored by the staidness, in any event, I realize I am at a halfway point again. I am leaving the South behind, and I am entering the West, a land of speculation, a land of here and now, but I am not there yet.
The double room I inherit from the deprived non-existent guests is decorated with paintings that have a bucolic theme. Each of them features a gurgling brook with expansive hinterland and cows. The room’s furniture is a sort of hodge-podge of functionality. Under the writing table, is a swivel office chair that doesn’t fit. It is probably comfortable enough, but it certainly this isn’t the correct way to use either the chair or the desk.
Those kinds of things are forgiven, but the room is not clean, and that’s basically unforgiveable (not that I am surprised). There is spilled coffee on the nightstand which had dried and sort of congealed. Personally, the dried coffee didn’t particularly bother me. What bothered me was something the hotel couldn’t have fixed even had I asked them to. The bed was uncomfortable. There were too many pillows and it was fixed so that the sheets were almost impossible to fully apprehend and bring up to my shoulders. I didn’t sleep well and woke with a headache, but that was due mostly to dehydration because as I mentioned my car’s A/C was kaput, and I was sweating a lot since the temperatures in this part of Texas in the summer of 2013 were record shatteringly high … which isn’t ironic at all, just bad luck.
So why is Mcdonalds such a sexy place?
I don’t know. You tell me?
I mean… obviously propaganda; there are toys for boys, there are toys for girls. In essence, it must have everything to do with ads, slogans, color, etc., but besides that I think it’s easily quite various between individuals. Using a Mcdonalds interior (or exterior and close proximity as well) as a simple prototype for an erotic atmosphere is more already established than left to further consider. I’m basically noting the quality of arousal elicited by overly perverted elements of any Mcdonalds experience including the inhabitants and their effected behaviour. There must be a french high-school vhs adaptation of La Grande Bouffe filmed at Mcdonalds. It is the space, the locality, the physical presence of a Mcdonalds restaurant that I’m mostly pointing to. Not just because of the blatant public quality or delicate balance between public and private within the proportions of the railing, booths, countertops, etc., but also because of varying adjoined forms of media. Whether it’s closer to a renaissance-like appreciation for healthy women, celebrity and common , masturbatory or socially active, sterility or filth, starvation and gorging, indulgence and spending, exhibitionism/teasing, voyeurism, violence, ASMR, S&M, the inanimate, sissy boy training, ass worship, gay/bi meeting places, teen/barely-legal/nostalgia, pedophilia, agoraphilia/phobia, stomachs, androidism, often dysmorphophilia and teratophilia, fantasy/myth, harpaxophilia/hybristophilia, Failure and Punishment, a morbid attraction to the senseless and toxic, Metophilia, Neophilia as well as Normophilia, Guilt/Hate, Feet, Cold ice/Watching fire, Sitophilia and Robotism, any Xenophillic turn-ons you can think of, or just true romance, also of course tendencies toward death, wealth, and poverty, it can all happen at Mcdonalds. There’s a general excitement of being in a place with people all of a sudden.
A Mcdonolds M is more sexually emblematic than early fertility totems. Ronald Mcdonald is actually Hugh Hefner in his normal clothing. And what I’m getting at here is brand-specific. I’m not talking about Chic-fil-A, or the Mall, I’m pointing to the product (the restaurant building) of a company and its logo, a brand, a network of designers, models, employees, CEOs, window washers, they all touch the name. Working for Mcdonalds must be like working for Disney or Nike or the Church, because you wear that name, that voluptuous M of gold. Mcdonalds as an entity is not-present at a Mcdonalds restaurant. As if the Father has left the house and the kids are home alone. Much like the feeling inside a church for a disbeliever. However, the gifts are there. The saturated gifts are so attainable. The world breathes through, in and out, Mcdonalds. The line of starving applicants to the feast accrues and diminishes and accrues again just like the shoreline. Listen to the lap of the waves. Peel that hot item open and examine the softness of the bun. There are cherries and whipped cream behind the counter. These are just inanimate details.
So I open up Skype chat to a fairly blurry webcam feed of Kalan in a woody squat, open rafters, natural light flooding in. It appears to be strewn with .. odds and ends, or the general detritus of society. He’s smiling brightly. The lines around his face tell of years of smiling. His almost Louis Bougeois-esque costumes and art projects seem to be urgently crafted mixed-media sculptures, and I assume they serve a function in his “Not-Happenings”. He says he has time for about 15 minutes before he finds his way to Baltimore. We end up swallowing about 2 hours of gruff discourse and speculation. While, jerking around in absurd topics such as Dealing with the Grief of others, the zombie quality of God and good bands to go see, Kalan holds up in an interview. He doesn’t dodge critique so much as he tries to use as much of his own angle as possible, similar to a magician and his hat, which i think was a good move, a good look. His conversation borders on Speed, the card game. It’s also Image Upkeep.
I first ran across the name, the persona, of Kalan when i was in a library looking at art books. Someone whispered “enormousface” and something about a vagabond who had given up speaking and assembled a sculpture series of objects that represented the alphabet somehow. Then much later, about 5 years later, I come across something on the Web under the name Kalan, dropping links and mouth-agape webcam selfies, making internet meme collages, chatting up prospective lovers and/or couches , screen capping phrases like “i have a micro-penis” and sharing both himself and his Art, Globally. Globetrotting is not unlike surfing the web. The hitchhiker’s thumb and the Webcam Post. the .jpeg, the .gif, the screencap; This is also a crude neo-alphabet. To come across something or someone on the internet twice by different means; it’s similar to the feeling of déjá vu, already seen but not known. Having had such an alternate perception of an art-clad traveling mute 5 years prior, veils have surely been lifted by now. A skype video transmission or even a sampling of chatroom text can support enough information to create an experience of Getting to Know Someone.
It’s 2014 and I’m new to the internet. For a while I’d been living between various girlfriends’ dorms, squats, tents, cars, eating hummus and free lunches from random weekly church programs, but now, I have a a real table and live in a fully liveable apartment, So…
As soon as i figured out this Kalan was the Enormousface Kalan, I was really thrilled actually. It’s because someone I saw… living once.. is Still living. That’s all. We exchanged information, but I was ubiquitous to connect until i saw
which became for me, not at all any sort of Coup de Grâce but the Pinnacle of Kalan’s ART thus far. This is a very emotional biographical film with several key plot points, along with several key emotional performances: The Promulgation of Rights,The Gentle Handcuffing, The Procession up the Escalator, The Stripping of the Mask, The responsibilty-beleagured role of the Officer in Charge illustrating social rank and functional power as well as governed empathy. (It’s not the last time this will happen, but I’m thinking of the agonizingly detailed death-march of Jesus described by The Stations of the Cross, also called Via Dolorosa or Way of Sorrows) The police swoop in to reclaim that Priority to the space which Kalan had once claimed as a meer denizen.
I know that feeling; when the Powers that Be swoop in. This kind of interruption to a performance always comes in a very physical and present way. Show’s Over. Surprise Submission is also a strong emotional tone. I laud anyone who faces the Other with clear volition. To be an extroverted performer as such, you must resolve Encounters on a daily basis. Encounters are sought out and claimed by and for the seeker. And they are never Of the seeker so much as what is sought. Despite whatever Kalan is doing, You’re there at the same time. You’re doing the same thing. As to root into the belly of the hoi polloi and pose and intend is a meager step forward; Kalan’s leap is in the form of a costumed dance or play replete with flourishing color, mixed texture, musical tones, both animate and inanimate dramatic figures, seemingly overt crowd-work, chopped prose and subtle acrobatics. The same goes for web presence. To seek out a moment, that which he’s creating; in this, the stage he’s set is a heralded priority, a priority held to the oblivious traveling masses. Though, it is the moment of the brief masses he’s after. Much like someone who decides to spin the wheel on chat-roulette instead of contacting someone they already know. In sentiment, it’s very generous; to appropriate a space and generally impose is to offer a closer position to responsibility for others, and also claim a little bit of that wherewithal for others. I want to reciprocate this generosity in another way. I want to interview him. He is willing.
We decide to Skype:
….the interviewer and interviewee. There’s always common denominators. Two turntables is a venn diagram. An interview on Skype is a limited but real and dynamic medium. The interview while in action is a seed which branches out into other leaves filled with other seeds. It’s difficult to really harvest fruit from any interview. This is why an interview is not an interview but just hit-or-miss abstract art.
I ask questions I want answered for myself, only lightly about him. Kalan answers his own questions he has sputtering out of the middle of his own sentences. I reply in accordance with a personal endeavour I’ve already set in solving for myself. In a video, I saw him with puppets made from baby dolls. Not yet had I even considered the lack of women in the engineering field. I’m asking questions from a web of areas that can solicit my sloppy attention span, and I have no clue how sloppily he’s been stroking his own ponderances. Then we take seats. Q & A. Narziß und Goldmund comes to mind. There’s always adoration. In an interview, pre-disclosed as such, there is surely an ebb and flow of avoidance and subjugation. I’ve talked to heroin addicts that are better listeners than Kalan. And that’s because he has a lot to share. He flutters and stretches through his thoughts similar to the limbs of a hiker slipping off a cliff, grasping and scrambling, and debris goes hurdling out into space. Kalan has a lot of different voices. He told me he sometimes mocks a russian accent, and then he did it. Some of his cadences are more asexual than others. Within seconds, his tone is quickly mirroring mine and I can tell. Some quoted moments from our conversation:
“I think I can produce a generosity within myself that.. that.. that.. kindles another into a.. into a.. positive feedback loop .. with me”
“That neurosis about art-making and writing also. Oh look I’m real, I’m phrenetically externalising the intricacies of my internal subjectivity, right , and .. does that answer your question?”
“…Partly why i’ve started wearing masks again…”
“to say this is not about me”
I ask “Do you think there’s anything artificial about what you do?”
To which he replies “I think I deeply disbelieve in the authentic. Most people’s experience of the authentic I think is learned” “…but I’m very interested in the Fake”
“… honesty .. ugliness.”
I tell him I think more about the Universe with that question. I casually struggle to relate walmart to the milky way, Kalan’s styrofoam/balloon pieces to molecules, mcdonalds to a flower, and then ask What is it that holds him together as a person who thinks?
He replies “… jesus …” (just an expressive term here),
“…When i read Deleuze.. it makes me peel reality”
“…Peeling is important, right?”
“I’m not very spiritual.”
“I think I want to disagree with what I think you were getting at with styrofoam and Walmart. I really just like the People that work at Walmart.”
He studiously announces “Hypocrisy is fine. Hypocrisy is better than purity”, and gloats “Vegans are obviously right” followed by a projected laugh.
We talk a bit about Spectating and Performing. He says “I think I have the best seat.. …I gotta get a go pro” , and so I deplore him to to really do this.
During the interview, I’m slightly preoccupied in my own fond curiosity about the second coming of Jesus or God many men come to search for within themselves time and again. Also, Oscar Wilde’s theory of what makes Jesus an effective artist is that he lowers himself to the dumbest humans. (nod to Mr. Sihan)
I ask “Do you think about Jesus? Is he anything to you Or…”
I forgot exactly what he said, but it included the apt “… I have no respect for the constitution. I have just as much respect for the constitution as the Bible” “ Honestly, i think… There’s this beautiful Crass song…”
(I’m sure it was this one)
If I were a sports moderator, I’d be implying that Kalan is the guy you want on your roster this season; not to check him out, go see him, or even think about him by any means, but either wait to see what happens next and/or consider where you see yourself in history. And go ahead, picture him, but picture yourself there too. I’d seen this man before in New Orleans on the pedestrian haven of Frenchmen, amidst a swamp of humans. There in a small clearing formed by pursed onlookers was Kalan on his knees in a ragged get-up (were there kneepads?) mastering what I remember to be a horse puppet with a tiny skull head. A friend of mine sat down and apparently watched the “whole performance”. I think I just kept swimming through the mass because .. well, I like it better than standing in a gaggle usually. Meeting up with my friend later, he said something very sincerely along the lines of “You missed it!…” I thought Ok so a street performer had that effect on my friend.
Now, I think Kalan, in a way, deconstructs that meaning with generally who he is continuing to be: an internet-performer on the street, antiquely dissonant avant-garde bit on America’s Got Talent, pushing this ironic niche of the 21st century into a “past full circle” futuristic locale (a natural virtue of the man A-Planet) It’s a synesthesia. I just tasted cherry, but really a cigarette ember had fallen on my hand. The “main-stage” of popular media is always a discerning place to bring the non-main-stage. Kalan’s the willing Skype interviewee. He’s one of society’s outliers getting put in the backseat of a cop car and mocking “Go take care of that suspicious male, right?” It’s following through. Marlon Brando had a Mexican actress play a sympathetic Native American to un-accept an award for him. In a journal, Gauguin claimed to have painted beautiful topless women in an exotic place. Joseph Beuys shared a room with a coyote. Andy Warhol ate a hamburger. Amy Winehouse did drugs and unfortunately died and so did Heath Ledger, right? People build snowmen from snow on holidays because it’s easy and a convenient activity. People also build snowmen from garbage to bring to the train station and adorn with kazoo song and archaic terminology. I remember Kalan told me “I want to live more in the past and more in the future.” I also remember a totally unrelated series of photographed snowmen in places which weren’t snowy. Remembrance and likewise Anticipation is keeping the open open. To follow through, to really hear that “Kooosh” of the net, it’s necessary to anticipate that which is open being kept open, and to drive whatever directly through it.
* – header image of kalan? cut by goatmilk?